By Ryan Kelley
Scenic Route, staring Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, is currently showing in theatres. The script, written by Kyle Killen, is both a story of survival and an examination of friendship and identity. Never shy to explore unconventional storylines and character-driven plots, Mr. Killen’s work includes the 2011 film, The Beaver as well as creating several highly acclaimed television dramas. I had the opportunity to ask him about his process of developing a griping story as well as his early days breaking into the industry.
RK: So tell me a little about Scenic Route.
KK: I always thought about it in terms of “What if you were stuck on a deserted island?”—the one person you would take is your best friend. You don’t realize how much baggage you have and ultimately you might be better off with a complete stranger. That’s what we do [in Scenic Route]. We take two best friends, and they bring everything with them, in terms of their history, and that ends up being a big problem.
There were movies like My Dinner with Andre that I found fascinating, despite the fact that they were conversations. That was one of the inspirations – the idea that we could be interested in what they were talking about as well as what they were doing. And that we could spend enough time with them and understand their stories, and we would be just as invested in that as the action.
RK: Tell me a little about the process of getting the film made.
KK: The Goetz brothers, who directed it, even before The Beaver, had signed on to direct another film that I had written. The Beaver was definitely something that changed my life and my career – at least by making the Black List. This other film continued to be too expensive to produce—it was a really big idea—and after years of trying to put that together, we started talking about other options.
We started looking for talent and we got to Josh [Duhamel] and he was really excited about it but also excited about the opportunity to demonstrate that all of this was in his quiver. Once we got him and then we got Dan [Fogler] and they had this great chemistry, it was 18 days in Death Valley in pretty much the conditions you see.
How about the early days? What was the process of breaking into the industry?
KK: It was actually with short fiction that I had some stories published. I won an award and then turned some of those stories into screenplays and that’s what got me noticed. Eventually I ended up with The Beaver and that got on the Black List. Eventually, it got made and that got the ball rolling on things.
As a screen and television writer, do you think there is anything to be gained from also writing fiction? I know many of us writers would love to dabble in both fields—they are certainly different, though.
KK: I always wanted to do film and television, that was my inspiration and passion. There’s something incredibly freeing about fiction—that there aren’t as many rules. I think that was really helpful. With screenplays, there are so many books on how to do it and how to crack the code, especially when you are just trying to break in and can’t figure out what you must be doing wrong. You have so many resources telling you how to do it right. There is something freeing about getting to a world where a story could be about anything it needed to be to tell it. In a weird way, going through that process, and working on that, helped me become a better screenwriter.
RK: Your work is very character-driven, built on a lot of great dialogue. How do you first imagine a story? Is it a particular character or plot or location that initially everything is built off of?
KK: I’d say usually you start with “what if”—what if there was this type of person, and what if this type of person chose to address a problem in this way.
RK: How do you develop a script from that initial idea to the final draft? Do you do a lot of outlining first or just dive into it?
KK: I guess it’s just sort of evolved – I used to be very anti-outlines. I like to just sit down and write and make a big mess and then sort of figure it out later. The thing about television is that a new story is essentially due every eight days.
You have to get a little more regimented on how you attack things. I’ve come around on the value of an outline as a place where you can do the hard work of talking out what the scenes are going to be and what is going to happen in them. By the time you sit down and write, you know what’s going on and you just need to write a good scene.
RK: Thank you, Kyle, for sitting down with me today.
Scenic Route opened in theatres August 23rd.
Interview by Ryan Kelly for Script Magazine.
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